Reprinted from Island Free Press
Kathy Rawls, the director of the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, paid a visit to Cape Point in Buxton Wednesday afternoon as part of a multi-pronged mission to reach out to the community, answer questions and collect feedback, and provide educational information on both the division and the seasonal star of the fishing scene, red drum.
The spring and fall months are the peak seasons for drum fishing, and the division’s Communications Director Patricia Smith said that it was a series of recent photos of red drum being caught off of Cape Point that inspired the trip.
“Our director really wanted to get out and meet some folks — she has a real initiative for public outreach,” Smith said. “And after seeing the photos of the red drum fishing happening here, this seemed like a great opportunity.”
Rawls became director of the division in May 2021. She has been with the division for more than 25 years, serving as the Fisheries Management section chief for the past seven years.
She is the first woman to head the agency since the Fisheries Commission Board became the Division of Commercial Fisheries in the late 1920s, and she’s also the first division director to make an in-person trip to Cape Point to talk with local anglers about their questions and concerns.
“There are lots of people who may not attend our meetings, or they may not necessarily call the office to talk about fisheries management issues in our state,” Rawls said. “So I thought this was a good opportunity to get out and meet people face-to-face, and just have conversations about our fisheries, what we’re doing, and to address any concerns that they may have.”
Rawls also brought bags of information to hand out to the anglers at Cape Point, which included educational materials as well as fishing gear. Division staff were also on hand to tag any red drum caught that afternoon, but a wind switch led to less-than-favorable fishing conditions, and there were few, if any, drum catches that day.
Red drum is the state saltwater fish, and the species can grow to more than 50 inches in length, weigh over 70 pounds and can live for 40 years or more. Red drum are extremely resilient when handled and released properly. Tagged red drum have even been captured after being at large for more than 20 years.
“I think people really enjoy coming to North Carolina to fish, and some folks come religiously for one thing: red drum,” Rawls said. “We think it’s important that folks enjoy coming to our state, and can come to our state and say, ‘Man, I caught a lot of fish when I visited North Carolina, and I can’t wait to go back.’”
This may have been Rawls’ first visit to Cape Point as division director, but she is very familiar with Hatteras Island.
“I spent my summers down here as a kid — my parents have a cottage down in Hatteras village — so I come here quite a bit,” she said. “There can literally be hundreds of fishermen out here (on Cape Point), arm to arm, and it can get really hectic when the fish are biting … This area holds the really hardcore red drum fishermen.”
Although the point was relatively unpopulated on their Wednesday afternoon visit, Rawls and the division team say that the trek from Morehead City to Buxton was worth the effort.
“For me as the director, one of the focuses is on outreach and communication, and being better at telling the story of the Division of Marine Fisheries and what we do, and sharing that with the public,” Rawls said. “We have been eager to get out and talk to stakeholders, and meet people in person (like on the Cape Point beach). We’ve had these opportunities before, but have not taken advantage of them, so we are looking forward to doing this more often, and in different places as well.”
This story is provided courtesy of the Island Free Press, a digital newspaper covering Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. Coastal Review is partnering with the Free Press to provide readers with more environmental and lifestyle stories of interest along our coast.